The Functional Garden of Jean Canneel-Claes

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When designing the garden of his home in Auderghem, Belgium, in 1931, Jean Canneel-Claes decided to stick to the typical approaches of the time, i.e. the perfect analysis of space and the substantial tension, through the application of formal principles derived from abstractionism, of pure forms, simple and well-defined lines.

Garden for the Van de Putte house, Brussels, 1932

Jean Canneel-Claes did not see the figure of the garden designer as a “gardener” whose only task was to choose plants and place them in a work of purely aesthetic or botanical value; rather he believed that garden design posed a series of formal, psychological, social and certainly practical questions.

Project for Canneel House, Le Corbusier, 1929

The inspiration for the design was nothing more than an application of the new rules of architecture (which, as has already been pointed out, moved further and further away from aesthetic canons, renouncing ‘beauty’ in favour of ‘functionality’, favouring modern materials, perfect geometries and focusing the design on the issue of the effective use of space, which would be as rigorous and effective as possible), not a decorative art.

Vintage photo of Jean Canneel-Claes' personal garden, Brussels, 1931

We begin to glimpse that way of thinking about “social” art which will continue to this day, and its application in landscape design: in fact the garden participates in all those social involvements at every scale – from the small private garden to the large park – which concern the physical and moral development of human beings. In the case of this garden, which has become a true symbol of Belgian modernism, the interior and exterior spaces of the project are in balance, the garden is not subordinate to the building, but neither does it overpower it, it simply finds a pleasant relationship of coexistence and completion having set the geometry of the house as its compositional basis.

Urban garden, Brussels, 1933

Rhythm and elegance can be seen in the subtle composition of full and empty spaces, the discontinuous rows of poplar trees and the deliberately open corner. The result is what Canneel himself called a “functional garden”, a definition that can be applied to many other experiences of the 20th century. Two other projects by Canneel are relevant even though they maintain the spirit of the garden analysed above: they are the garden for the residence of Mr. Van de Putte near Brussels and the garden for the villa of M. J. Grimar in Genval.

Vintage photo of the garden of Canneel House, Brussels, 1931

The first, from 1932, confirms all the ideas that Canneel pursued in those years. In fact, once again we find a garden extending from the house, continuing it with a narrow geometrically shaped paving, counterbalanced by a larger lawn, all on an extremely elongated plan, where a few trees define the outline, punctuating it, and where the architecture penetrates the garden just as the garden becomes architecture.

Garden for Jean Canneel-Claes' personal house, Brussels, 1931

In the second project, dating from 1930, we can see geometric shapes for the garden spaces, but with softening of the corners to create a more rounded, natural composition which follows the lines of the house (also built according to this criterion), and where the vegetation bends to the curvilinear forms and creates backdrops which limit the plan of the garden, opposing the height of the building.

Garden for Villa Grimar, Genval, 1930